Tonga players finally paid for June tests, CEO MIA

Jale Vatubua on attack for Fiji Airways Flying Fijians against Tonga during their clash at Churchill Park in Lautoka last month. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

AUCKLAND, (RNZ PACIFIC) — The Tonga rugby squad have finally been paid for their efforts in the June test window, after a number of players had hit out at the lack of support from the country’s Rugby Union.

Bath flyer Cooper Vuna tweeted after the ‘Ikale Tahi beat Fiji a week and a half ago that the players were still waiting for CEO Fe’ao Vunipola to pay the team and congratulate them on their achievements.

Injured Leicester Tigers fullback Telusa Veainu also commented that “Some things just don’t change. Give the players what they deserve.”

‘Ikale Tahi coach Toutai Kefu said funding remained an ongoing problem for the Tonga Rugby Union, which is almost entirely reliant on World Rugby.

“Because of our incompetence in terms of our governance/administration we lack that power to pursue other forms of funding and even organisation of test matches during the November window and sponsorship and all that type of stuff so we’re basically 99.9 percent funded by World Rugby,” he acknowledged.

Toutai Kefu said the ‘Ikale Tahi team manager, former test captain Inoke Afeaki, has assured him the players were finally paid last week.

“It’s one of the things that creeps up every campaign. We always try and get the players paid in the first week of the tour and the last week of the tour.

“Now, because of for some reason or another, the government is responsible for those payments and they’ve always contributed to the player payments… it’s either been held up or just a slow process, for one reason or another, but in the end it always seems to get paid.”

Kefu said TRU Chief Executive Fe’ao Vunipola is a hard man to track down and the former test front rower has not visited the team or attended any of the ‘Ikale Tahi’s recent matches.

“I haven’t spoken to him for over 18 months. He doesn’t even come to any of the games, there’s no well-wishes,” he said.

“Even when we were in Tonga last year – apparently he was in Tonga but he didn’t even come and see the team.”

“He splits his time between UK and Tonga though I think he spends more time actually in the UK but we actually don’t know when he actually is in Tonga,” admitted the former Wallabies number eight.

“He turns up pretty much at his will. I don’t know what he actually does because we’ve been running the ‘Ikale Tahi parallel to the Union for the last two/three years, we’ve been trying to deal with governments and trying to deal with World Rugby on our own.”

Toutai Kefu said a request for additional funding from World Rugby was approved in December, which allowed them to expand staff and player numbers for the June window and have a week-long camp in Auckland before tests against Georgia, Samoa and Fiji.

Tonga’s victories over Manu Samoa and the Flying Fijians, which followed a one-point defeat the Lelos, helped them climb to 12th place in the latest World Rugby rankings.

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